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Report Finds Personnel And Technology Failures Led To Michigan Prisoner’s Escape

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Michael David Elliot escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility. (credit: Michigan Dept. Of Corrections OTIS)

Michael David Elliot escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility. (credit: Michigan Dept. Of Corrections OTIS)

LANSING (WWJ) – A state report looking into the escape of a convicted murder from the Ionia Correctional Facility on Superbowl Sunday has just been released.

The Attorney General and a national expert reviewed 1,000 pages of documents and concluded personnel and technology failures played a major role in Michael Elliott‘s February escape. In one of six findings, the Attorney Generals office says “There was a complete breakdown in the effectiveness of the microwave alert system due to officer inattention and error.”

The report has 12 recommendations including the call for the modification of the alert system to include an additional audible alarm that continuously alerts the monitor room officer that a zone is not reactivated and the reconsideration whether to station armed officers in the guard towers to deter prisoners from escaping.

“We have conducted a complete and thorough investigation that revealed critical technology failures and personnel failures in security,” said AG Bill Schuette, in a statement. “Prisons are built to keep dangerous criminals locked away from society, but in this case a violent murderer escaped.  The recommendations contained in this report will help ensure dangerous felons remain locked up where they belong.”

Officials said Elliot, who had a record of good behavior during his 20 years in custody, wore a white kitchen uniform to evade security and blend in with snow. Once outside the prison, Elliot abducted a woman and stole her Jeep, authorities said.

The woman was able to call 911 from a concealed cellphone while Elliott was pumping gas at a store some 100 miles south near Middlebury in Elkhart County, Ind., authorities said. She ran to a restroom and locked herself inside. Elliot knocked on the door, but she stayed inside until police arrived.

Elliot fled but was arrested following a short vehicle pursuit.

[HEAR THE 911 CALLS]

The following was provided by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office:

Six Technology and Personnel Failures

The Attorney General Report highlights the following six critical security failures revealed by the independent Attorney General investigation:

1. PIRAMID Microwave Alert System Failure: There was a complete breakdown in the effectiveness of the PIRAMID microwave alert system due to officer inattention and error and a failure to ensure that the entire system was operational and aligned to detect human intrusion.

2. Video Surveillance Failure: There was a significant breakdown in the effectiveness of the prison’s video surveillance system due to the inattentiveness of the officer responsible for monitoring the video feed and the failure to follow the staffing policy in the Control Center.

3. E-Flex Wire Alarm System Failure: The failure to keep the E-Flex wire alarm system operational, which is contained in an interior fence, contributed to Elliot’s escape.

4. Prisoner Count Procedure Failure: The formal count procedures were inadequate and staff failed to follow informal count procedures. Both of these factors contributed to Elliot’s escape.

5. Fencing System Failure: Structural weaknesses in the fencing system were a significant contributing factor in Elliot’s escape.

6. Security System Failure and Personnel Error and Inattention: To date, all available information indicates that Elliot acted alone in the escape, but was able to capitalize on officer inattention, officer error, and weaknesses in the ICF security system.

Twelve Recommendations

The Attorney General Report offers the following twelve recommendations to guard against future escape attempts by dangerous convicted felons:

1. PIRAMID Microwave Intrusion Alert System: The PIRAMID microwave intrusion alert system must be modified to include an additional audible alarm that continuously alerts the monitor room officer that a zone is not reactivated. MDOC must ensure facility compliance with established policies respecting maintenance and inspection of security measures and, in particular, the regular inspection of all microwave and motion sensors for the PIRAMID system.

2. Video Surveillance: MDOC must change the manner in which the video surveillance system operates. The cameras present an image in full screen in the Monitor Room, which remains the same until the officer switches to another camera. The system must be replaced with a system in which each camera feeds to a monitor for a specific designated time. This will enable the feed from all cameras to be viewed for a pre-determined time.

3. E-Flex Wire Alarm System: The E-Flex wire alarm system contained in the interior slow-down fence must be restored to operation as it is the first structural line of defense.

4. Prison Count Procedure: MDOC and ICF must sufficiently train staff and confirm that policy is being adhered to with respect to the appropriate use of existing formal and informal prisoner count procedures. MDOC must review existing policies to determine whether the number of formal prisoner counts should be modified to prevent an eight-hour span of time between counts.

5. Fencing System: All slow-down fences must be inspected and repaired to ensure that there are no gaps or structural weaknesses. It is also recommended that slow-down fences be established that would limit inmate movement to areas that are within the observation of the assigned yard officer. The sally port gate fencing must be firmly secured to its frame to prevent the unraveling of the chain-link fabric.

6. Manning Guard Towers: MDOC must reconsider whether to station armed officers in the guard towers to achieve a sufficient deterrent effect on prisoners considering escape attempts.

7. Perimeter Patrol: MDOC must consider restoring the perimeter patrol by an armed officer as a full-time position, rather than as a collateral duty of the front lobby officer, especially if the guard towers are not manned.

8. Training and Management: MDOC must ensure that there is regular training of officers with respect to the duties of the Control Center, including the critical duties performed by the officer in the Monitor Room. Management must assure performance of these duties. In addition, management should consider implementing techniques, such as time limits and rotation, to ensure that officers watching monitor screens remain alert and vigilant.

9. Snow Removal: MDOC must reevaluate snow removal strategies in order to reduce visual obstructions.
10. Clothing Policy: MDOC must reevaluate the issuance of prison clothing that can be used as camouflage in the natural environment.

11. Prisoner Security Classification: MDOC must reevaluate their security classification process to determine whether an inmate serving life without parole should ever be classified as lower security Level II. At the very least, MDOC must incorporate a procedure where inmates serving life without parole require a higher degree of supervision.

12. Prisoner Purchase Policy: MDOC must reconsider their policy allowing inmates to purchase hobby scissors and other like items that can be fashioned into a weapon or an escape tool. Rather, MDOC must consider a policy that may allow prisoners to use these items, but requires their return so that an accounting can be made.

[View the full text of the report]

Elliot was serving life in prison without parole for fatally shooting four people and burning down their Gladwin County house in 1993 when he was 20 years old, according to court records.

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